Monthly Archives: November 2012

Khazâd Part I: Aulë

And now I will begin to explain my take on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Dwarves, or the Khazâd, as they call themselves. It has taken me this long to gather my thoughts, dig up my evidence and organize my reasoning. I assume that most of my readers are familiar with Middle Earth and its inhabitants. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments section, or check out the Tolkien Gateway and its handy search engine.

I begin with what is, for the Dwarves, the beginning.

As far as I know, the Dwarves are the only race of Arda to be created by a single Ainu. The others arose from the Music of the Ainur, or from the corrupting influence of Melkor on existing races.  There are other races closely associated with specific Ainu (like the Ents and Yavanna, or the Eagles and Manwë),  but only the Dwarves were the work of a single mind. Therefore understanding them must begin with understanding something of their maker, Aulë the Smith.

In the Valaquenta Silmarillion, Aulë is said to be the third-mightiest of the Lords of the Valar, and the most similar in talents to the Enemy of the Valar, Melkor.  He is shown to be a smith and the shaper of the “substances of which Arda is made.”

He is … a master of all crafts, and he delights in works of skill, however small, as much as in the mighty building of old. His are the gems that lie deep in the Earth and the gold that is fair in the hand, no less than the walls of the mountains and the basins of the sea. … Melkor was jealous of him, for Aulë was most like himself in thought and powers; and there was long strife between them, in which Melkor ever marred or undid the works of Aulë, and Aulë grew weary in repairing the tumults and disorders of Melkor. Both, also, desired to make things of their own that should be new and unthought of by others, and delighted in the praise of their skill. But Aulë remained faithful to Eru and submitted all that he did to his will; and he did not envy the works of others, but sought and gave counsel. Whereas Melkor spent his spirit in envy and hate, until at last he could make nothing save in mockery of the thought of others, and all their works he destroyed if he could.” Valaquenta, Silmarillion

And there you have it. Aulë contained the fire and will to create and this made him great, but also led him into trouble. From what Tolkien writes, the desire to create is both wonderful and perilous. Many of his most destructive characters are either akin to Aulë  or else were his disciples. Fëanor, so talented and so catastrophic, and even Sauron, himself, learned craft from the Smith. It would be easy to assume that Tolkien considered craftsmanship a road to evil. He certainly represents the dangers of creativity in materialism and delusions of godhood. A closer look, though, reveals a very different message. Tolkien’s take seems to be that the paramount wonder and power of creation is balanced by great risk.

But for all the dangers of this creative drive, Aulë is represented as a good being. He is patient (save in one instance that I will discuss shortly), even-tempered, generous, strong, hard-working and artistic. Of the Lords of the Valar, he and Oromë are my favorites, but the Smith wins by a nose. I guess I identify with smiths. No surprise there.

I also identify with being patient in some regards and impatient in others. Of Aulë’s impatience, the Quenta Silmarillion, chapter 2, has this to say:

…so greatly did Aulë desire the coming of the Children, to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts, that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Ilúvatar. And Aulë made the Dwarves even as they still are…

Aulë, however, had his limits. He could make only puppets, for he was unable to give his creations souls of their own. Ilúvatar, Aulë’s creator, confronts him with this, and asks if Aulë wishes to be lord over things that do not have the power of movement or speech unless his thoughts are on them. Aulë replies:

“I did not desire such lordship. I desired things other than I am, to love and to teach them, so that they too might perceive the beauty of Eä, which thou hast caused to be. For it seemed to me that there is great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it, yet it is for the most part empty, still, and dumb. And in my impatience I have fallen into folly. Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father. But what shall I do now, so that thou be not angry with me for ever? As a child to his father, I offer to thee these things, the work of the hands which thou hast made. Do with them what thou wilt. But should I not rather destroy the work of my presumption?” Quenta Silmarillion, chapter 2

I find that a compelling speech. My desire to create things, not in mockery but in celebration of what is, puts me in keen sympathy with Aulë.  Recognizing that his actions were selfish, Aulë moves to destroy his creations, but Ilúvatar has already given them souls and they shrink from Aulë in fear. Ilúvatar tells Aulë that he will adopt the Dwarves, but he makes this caveat: “when the time comes I will awaken them, and they shall be to thee as children; and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.” Quenta Silmarillion, chapter 2

This quote dissatisfies me. It is as if Ilúvatar has no warmth of love for the Dwarves and takes them on reluctantly. It is something I would like to ask Tolkien about. Is it a shade of his own heart, reluctant to love the Dwarves? Or did he intend it to be part of the Elven slant of the Silmarillion? But knowing a little of Tolkien’s background and faith, there is another possibility. Perhaps he intended the quote to echo another adoption: that of the gentiles in the Bible.

Being a gentile, this may explain some of my sympathy with the Dwarves. Ilúvatar is the father of the souls of the Dwarves, and in giving them souls adopts them as his children. It is interesting, to me, that Tolkien drew some of his ideas of the Dwarven culture (and their language) from Jewish cultures. For, to me, they seem like the Gentiles of Middle-earth. This possibility raises a myriad of questions, none of which I would dare to answer, but I find it intriguing.

To sum up: Aulë created the Dwarves from stone and he intended them to share his creative spirit with its inherent wonders and dangers, to endure and resist the destruction and corruption of Melkor and to love and enjoy the world.  Ilúvatar adopted Aulë’s creations and gave them souls, making them independent of their original maker, free agents in the world. Ilúvatar put them to sleep until the other Children should wake, and perhaps from the inherent difference between communal creations and singular creations, Ilúvatar said that there would be strife between the Dwarves and the other races.  That is the background of the Dwarves.

Next, I will explore the environment that shaped them after their waking.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


Happy Hobbit Thanksgiving!

Lets face it, Thanksgiving is a very Hobbitish holiday. Food, family, thankfulness, and more food.

It seems appropriate, therefore, to have one of our chapters from The Hobbit Read-along fall on this day. Here we are, at the next to last chapter, “The Return Journey”.

We have been in the midst of a chaotic battle, but the dust has settled and dear Bilbo, invisible, wakes from unconsciousness, cold, and alone. He wakes to find victory, but not a joyful one. “Well it seems a very gloomy business,” he says. Yes, Bilbo, it is a very gloomy business.

Last chapter, the Dwarves  showed some real character. Now, so near the end, we get more. We see Thorin, faced with death, gaining perspective. Forgiveness and friendship finally outweigh material things to him. This death, and the deaths of Fili and Kili (I am so sad for their parents, if they still live!) bring home to Bilbo the painful reality that adventure and tragedy are closely related.

They buried Thorin deep beneath the mountain, and Bard laid the Arkenstone upon his breast.

“There let it lie till the Mountain falls!” he said. “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after!”

Upon his tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist, the elvish sword that had been taken from Thorin in captivity. It is said in songs that it gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of the dwarves could not be taken by surprise.

There are some interesting details in this chapter, and, in my opinion, some of the best quotes in the book.

In the “interesting” category, I place the fact that Gandalf has his arm in a sling. Gandalf, who will one day fight a Balrog! I know he can be injured, but I really want to know how it happened.

Also interesting is Tolkien’s more relaxed use of language. Just look at his description of Beorn’s roars:

The roar of his voice was like drums and guns.

No shying from modern lingo here!

Now I will conclude with some of my favorite quotes from the chapter.

“How I should have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don’t know. And I don’t know what I should have done with it when I got home.”

Bilbo has become a much wiser hobbit over the course of his adventure. And much more generous, too:

“If ever you are passing my way,”  said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome to come at any time!”

Could there be a more hobbitish farewell?

There is some nice, probably unintentional foreshadowing:

“Farewell! O Gandalf!” said the king. “May you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected!”

Tolkien taunts us with:

“He had many hardships and adventures before he got back.”

And yet he tells us so little! Why, Tolkien, why?!

And finally we have this:

“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!”

Have a happy Thanksgiving day!


Progress?

Mere Inkling has an entertaining post on The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam and the heroic and tragic death of Boromir son of Denethor son of Ecthelion from Lord of the Rings.

More than likely, no one will be interested in this, but I am and therefore I shall post it. Also, my promised posts on Dwarves are not ready yet, so this will have to do.

I took the exam twice. Once for the first “high fantasy” story I ever started (at the age of 12 and still ongoing for my own enjoyment) and my current work in progress which, if I can finish, I will try to publish some day. The first set of answers are in red, and the second in blue. There are places where I can tell I have progressed. Overall, though, I do not see a huge difference in the answers.

I can tell a difference between the stories.  I’ve learned lessons about plot, clichés, characterization and prose. I find it interesting, and a little discouraging, that I have not changed much in essentials, though.

I guess there is no merit in change for change’s sake, and as I am not dissatisfied with my answers, I will try not to worry about it.

  1. Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?
    no.  no.
  2. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?
    Mysterious parentage, yes, farmhand? NoNope.
  3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it?
    Not a throne, but a strategic military position.  Nope.
  4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
    He’s not that supreme, really…    hmm… tricky question. Loosely?
  5. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?
    13 artifacts, actually. What can I say, I have attention-deficit issues.  Nope.
  6. How about one that will destroy it?
    Nope.  Nope.
  7. Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about “The One” who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?
    No prophecies here.  There’s a prophecy tangled up in all of it, but not one of that kind. 
  8. Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information?
    Not sole purpose, but… yeah.  Not that I know of. I need to watch out for that, though.
  9. Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise?
    Not a god, but a dragon. Er… dragons.  Nope.
  10. Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character?
    Ugh… No, No and NO!  It would be a little weird for a female to be someone’s father… And no, she’s not her mother, either.
  11. Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician?
    There is no “king of the world” but the Hastaren Emperor is a puppet…  Nope.
  12. Does “a forgetful wizard” describe any of the characters in your novel?
    No, indeed. My wizard is quite present, thank you. Nope.
  13. How about “a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior”?
    Securen insists that he is not slow. I have to agree, though Millace is giving us a wry look. Nope.
  14. How about “a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons”?
    Erhm… yes.  Nope.
  15. Do the female characters in your novel spend a lot of time worrying about how they look, especially when the male main character is around?
    Nope. Nope.
  16. Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued?
    No! Grr.  Possibly one, but I am working on her.
  17. Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals?
    No.  No. That would be self-defeating.
  18. Would “a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword” aptly describe any of your female characters?
    No. Nope.
  19. Would “a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan” aptly describe any of your female characters?
    Does a distant tertiary character count? If so, then yes. World domination for the win!  One that comes to mind. Both her and the character mentioned above are of the same people-group.  None of their people are very into frying pans. Hmm…
  20. Is any character in your novel best described as “a dour dwarf”?
    Nope.  No.
  21. How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”?
    No. No.
  22. Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different?
    No. No.
  23. Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?
    NO! NO!
  24. Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy?
    What are ships?  Oh, I wish!
  25. Do you not know when the hay baler was invented?
    I do not, but it’s moot.
  26. Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like “The Blasted Lands” or “The Forest of Fear” or “The Desert of Desolation” or absolutely anything “of Doom”?
    What are place-names? How about Fort Landham or Blackhorse Cove? I’d love to use “Shake-rag Hollow,” but as it’s a real place, I resist.  
  27. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you’ve read the entire book, if even then?
    I wrote one, but I don’t consider it part of the book.  Not a prologue, exactly, but a beginning chapter that is a little disconnected from the next couple. About three short chapters in the pieces make sense. Hopefully.
  28. Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?
    I have no idea. Do you? I hope not.
  29. How about a quintet or a decalogue?
    Meh? I dunno… ask me later.
  30. Is your novel thicker than a New York City phone book?
    It will be. Oh, it will be.  It might be…
  31. Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you’re still many sequels away from finishing your “story”?
    That would require knowing where the breaks in the story should be, but probably. Let’s just say “I hope not.”
  32. Are you writing prequels to your as-yet-unfinished series of books?
    No. I’m simultaneously writing two books that are about some of the same characters only with a 10-year time difference. If that counts as writing a prequel, then yes.
  33. Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?
    Who is Robert Jordan? (oh, those were the blissful years!) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.
  34. Is your novel based on the adventures of your role-playing group?
    My brother still won’t let me play. Nope.
  35. Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm?
    Not exactly.  Nope.
  36. Do any of your main characters have apostrophes or dashes in their names?
    No. No.
  37. Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables?
    Dandelion.  If you count “Necromancer,” then yes, but he prefers “Master.” I swear it’s not my fault; he refuses to tell me his name…
  38. Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named “Tim Umber” and “Belthusalanthalus al’Grinsok”?
    Someone needs a lesson in linguistics.  Hehehehehe! Ahem… extenuating circumstances aside, it looks pretty weird to me.
  39. Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?
    Yes, yes, yes and no.  Do dead ones count?  If so then possibly, yes, yes and no.
  40. How about “orken” or “dwerrows”?
    Uhhhh , what?   I love the word “dwerrows.” Just sayin.
  41. Do you have a race prefixed by “half-“?
    No. Nope.
  42. At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines?
    Oh, I hope so, but not yet.  No shortcuts. Some of them practically live there. So I am Moria-obsessed. Sue me. ;)
  43. Do you write your battle scenes by playing them out in your favorite RPG?
    Battle-scenes are haaaaaard! And my brother still won’t let me join his RPG. No, I whimper to my friend to tell me what I am doing wrong. Unfortunately Grad-school has her in its grips, so I am all alooooooone!
  44. Have you done up game statistics for all of your main characters in your favorite RPG?
    I’ve tried to steal my brother’s manuals. So far, I’ve only nabbed the monster compendium. Ooo! Displacer beasts! Um, no, but that’s an interesting thought. Where’s my GURPS manual…
  45. Are you writing a work-for-hire for Wizards of the Coast?
    What is that?  Heh, no.
  46. Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls?
    Um… yes.  Sadly, no.
  47. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don’t?
    Probably…  Who does know? Honestly? I’m not sure the feudal societies knew.  The society in my writing at present isn’t feudal. Problem solved? Yes. More problems created? Oh my heavens, you have no idea!
  48. Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place?
    How about all the time? Literally. What else is there?  I’m trying to avoid that.
  49. Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won’t break the plot?
    Erm. Yes. One of them could tell the others oodles of stuff, but they are on opposing sides, so… I guess “just so it won’t break the plot” doesn’t apply.
  50. Do any of the magic users in your novel cast spells easily identifiable as “fireball” or “lightning bolt”?
    Does it count if a dragon does it? If “dire necromantic spells” fit into this category, then yes. Otherwise, probably not.
  51. Do you ever use the term “mana” in your novel?
    Yes. Nope.
  52. Do you ever use the term “plate mail” in your novel?
    No. Why?  Uh, no. Plate armor isn’t a factor, though. It’s not very practical in subtropical rainforests or damp caverns… or foothills, mountains, forests… need I go on?
  53. Heaven help you, do you ever use the term “hit points” in your novel?
    Uh, no.  Hahahahaahahahahahahaahahaahahahahahahahahahah *dies*
  54. Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs?
    It’s heavy, right? Oh yes.
  55. Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?
    Nope. Nope. The problem is calculating their endurance over rough terrain… help? Please?
  56. Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?
    *Rolls eyes* no. Ah… no, nope, no and no.
  57. Does your main character have a magic axe, hammer, spear, or other weapon that returns to him when he throws it?
    Nope. One has a halberd that stands on its own. Does that count?
  58. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?
    Scimitar! I have a scimitar! Well, it’s just a cheap imitation, but still! I haven’t seen any scimitars in-story so far. Is stabbing people with scimitars a stock-fantasy thing? Aren’t they more for slashing, anyway? And yes, I still have that cheap-imitation scimitar. It hangs above the headboard of my bed.
  59. Does anybody in your novel stab anybody straight through plate armor?
    No, that’s ridiculous. Wow. Um, no, but I can think of two characters who probably could.
  60. Do you think swords weigh ten pounds or more? [info]
    Some do, some don’t. Depends on the kind of sword, no? There aren’t many swords in this story anyway. Let’s talk crossbows.
  61. Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains?
    My “hero” is a heroine, and no. Well, of the triumvirate, the main one is a heterosexual female, so “no,” for her. For the other two, it depends on your definition of “unattainable,” but I am going to venture “no.”   
  62. Does a large portion of the humor in your novel consist of puns?
    Ugh, no.  Still no!  
  63. Is your hero able to withstand multiple blows from the fantasy equivalent of a ten pound sledge but is still threatened by a small woman with a dagger?
    She is the small woman with a dagger, and she wouldn’t withstand a sledgehammer or a stabbing.  Sledgehammer would definitely do her in, but a small woman with a dagger could, as well. Still, I wouldn’t want to try her in a fight.
  64. Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man?
    No. Nope.
  65. Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an “on the road” meal?
    No… excuse me, I need to do some editing. I cook now, so yep.
  66. Do you have nomadic barbarians living on the tundra and consuming barrels and barrels of mead?
    Nope.  Sadly, no.
  67. Do you think that “mead” is just a fancy name for “beer”?
    It’s made from honey, right? Beer is not. No! The horror!
  68. Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion?
    No, save in one instance. No, save for that one instance. It is still around, but there’s a good reason for it.
  69. Is the best organized and most numerous group of people in your world the thieves’ guild?
    Not so organized, really. *shifty look* what thieves’ guild?
  70. Does your main villain punish insignificant mistakes with death?
    I haven’t seen him do it, but I wouldn’t put it past him. There are two. Of one, I would say: not when he’s lucid…  of the other, no.
  71. Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute?
    A bard? What? OOTS! Um, I mean, “nope.”
  72. Is “common” the official language of your world?
    Nope, I have invented an inanimate version of a babelfish! Hahahahah! Wouldn’t that be convenient?
  73. Is the countryside in your novel littered with tombs and gravesites filled with ancient magical loot that nobody thought to steal centuries before?
    That depends on which countryside. That no one thought to loot? No. That no one dared to loot? Let’s just say that only one person, in the course of the story, will even try.
  74. Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?
    Um… little bits, but overall no. Nope. I love Tolkien too much for that.  
  75. Read that question again and answer truthfully.
    No dark overlord, no band of stalwart companions on a mission to save the world, no war for all the free-peoples of Arda. I think we’re safe.   It’s good not to be hasty. *re-checks the calculations* Nope, still not Faux Tolkien.

Enough with the Dichotomy

I  usually try to stay out of political discussions, but I need to get this one off my chest.

I get really sick of the “either/or” mentality proliferated in the current politics of my homeland. The reality is, most  people fall somewhere between the “Republican” and “Democratic” ideologies.  The rest of the world rarely sees this, though, as the loudest voices are the ones on the fringes.

It seems that the more similar our political parties become (that is another discussion, and one I would rather not start here) the more they feel it necessary to differentiate themselves with hot-button issues and combative politics. Though I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, I feel like our political system, media included, is intent on polarizing the nation.

I want them to stop it. I doubt that they will. After all, frightened and angry people are easier to lead, up to a point.

A good example of this artificial dichotomy is our “election map.” Sure, it is simple for the sake of being easy to read, but when most people are presented with a map of the States colored in stark red and blue they come away with the idea that there are two monolithic sides at war. A red state is a red state, and a blue state is blue.

Forgive my language, but that’s bullshit. Heaps and mounds of steaming bovine excrement.

Every state in the union is purple, as are most of its citizens. It may be impossible to quantify the shades of red and blue in individuals in order to give an accurate representation of national political leanings, but surely we can do better than the red-state/blue-state false dichotomy.

Thankfully, someone has done this. M. E. J. Newman,  I thank you for your fascinating election maps.

Take a quick look at this:

This is a map representing percentages of votes by county in the 2008 presidential election. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any completely red or blue states. I hope this shatters a few illusions, like the assumption that certain regions of the country can be effectively represented by stereotypes. For any who don’t know, I hate stereotypes and blanket statements.

And here is a cartogram, a map where the counties have been re-sized to represent their populations.

Interesting, no?
Now, I understand the usefulness of the stark red and blue maps when representing electoral votes on election night. But I post this from a need to point out to any who don’t know, that the U. S. of A. cannot be accurately represented by a dichotomy. Even the purple map fails us, for it does not show the growing frustration with the two-party system, the fact that many people who vote Republican or Democrat are not strongly one or the other, or the votes for Green, Libertarian, Independent or Write-In candidates.

It is time for our nation to wake up and stop thinking in terms of “either/or.” The cynic in me says that there is worse to come. Fear and anger are blinding more and more people, and when in that state people prefer to see those who disagree with them as caricatures rather than people. Stereotypes are easier to hate and everyone, whether they admit it or not, harbors some hatred for a stereotype or two.

I don’t know what else to do, save to break down assumptions one person at a time and keep praying that the People of the United States of America will stand up and say “stop putting us in your boxes and listen to what we really think!”

P.S. I know that posting something about politics at this time may seem like an invitation, but I will delete any comment that contains partisan vitriol. This isn’t the right place for that kind of venting.


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